I am in a service learning course where we are learning about the immigrant experience in Spain since Spain has the second highest immigration rate after the Untied States.  For this course, I help teach English in a local school to 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders for two hours each Wednesday.  I had my first day last week and it was quite the experience.

First, as an education major I was really tuned into the way in which the teachers interacted with the students and vice versa.  All of the children were great kids.  I got the impression that the teachers do not have issues with unruly individual students.  However, as a whole the students were very loud.  I don’t mean to say that they were being purposefully disrespectful or unruly, I think they do not have the same understanding of raising their hands to talk or waiting their turn to talk.  Also, the teachers are very loose and do not seem to practice typical classroom management skills that I am used to seeing.  They are not bad teachers, it was simply interesting to observe the different cultural approach to education.  If I were these students, I would be exhausted by the end of the day since they are constantly competing for the teacher’s attention with their voices.  They all had good and important things to say; however, they all feel the need to say it at the same time.

I started off in third grade and introduced myself.  I told them about my life in the United States and my favorite food, color, etc.  Next, the teacher handed out paper for them to draw me and include details after I described myself.  The teacher gave me the drawings to keep, and I took them out to look at them on my bus ride home.  At first, I was surprised to see that the first drawing had me with a word bubble saying “My name is Alyssa and I’m a multi-millionaire.” I didn’t recall mentioning anything about finances.  I was even more surprised to see the next picture that had a car that the student indicated to be made out of gold.  I received many drawings like this.  As a United States citizen it is important to understand stereotypes or generalizations that the rest of the world forms about the citizens of the United States.  When studying abroad, one is faced with both the positive and negative impressions of people from the United States.  Therefore, it is important to define your individual identity abroad and contribute to a positive impression of America as well.

Alyssa Wolan is studying abroad in Toledo, Spain, at the Fundación de Ortega y Gasset with the University of Minnesota.